New Clio backs up flair with plenty of punch

WHEN you have so many rivals calling out for attention, it doesn't hurt to have a bit of flair.

But style should not come at the expense of substance.

Renault is newest brand on the Ballarat stage, and the little Clio is about the most fashionable item on the Renault rack.

It has to be because there is no hotter property nor more hotly contested segment right now than the small car segment.

There has been plenty of hype about the Clio, perhaps more than for any French car I can remember. 

Little wonder Renault Ballarat was keen to give us a sample just weeks after setting up shop in town.

In French Blue, our Clio Expression made an immediate impression, mostly for the right reasons.When so many small cars look similar, the Clio cuts a different figure.

The view from inside is also a bit different, but not in a way that requires learning a whole new way of doing things.

The layout of the instruments and basic controls has a style of its own but is no harder to read or less practical to use than those in other more "obvious" small car choices.

Within a few minutes of driving they became as second nature as any, while the oversize digital speedo may actually be an advantage given how many different speed limit zones we have at present.

We expected the Clio to be at home around the streets of Ballarat.

And it was - the combination of a surprisingly brisk 1.2-litre turbo charged four with 88kW of peak power and 190Nm of torque, a dual clutch six-speed self-shifting transmission, and a kerb weight of just 1104kg - made for a nimble and responsive jaunt about town.

What surprised us to a degree was how capable the little Renault was once we left the city limits and hit the open road.

Cruising on the highway was effortless, belying the modest engine capacity.

It got even better when we found some windy roads. Handling was hot hatch-like due - once again - to the light weight and a very nicely balanced suspension.

The dual clutch transmission, which felt a fraction slow to react in stop-start traffic, came into its own helped in no small degree by the delightfully smooth turbo engine.

The transmission is particularly good when it is flicked across into manual mode, although precisely how many drivers will do this is anyone's guess.

The fabric seats are more comfortable than most in the sub-$20,000 segment while the feel of most materials inside is better than average for the price point. 

The centrally mounted colour touchscreen audio-infotainment system, which includes satellite navigation in the Expression, is well positioned for the driver, pleasant to look at and easy to use.There were a couple of odd omissions. 

 The lack of a rear camera in the mid-level Expression (it is an option in the high-end Dynamique) or rear parking sensors seemed strange for an otherwise well equipped car, for example.But overall there was an enormous amount to like about the Clio, including a combined fuel economy rating of 5.2-l/100km. 

For Renault, stereotypical French "charm" is not enough. Style and substance are both de rigueur.

Your local dealer is Ballarat Renault: 5339 5744

Renault Clio Expression

ENGINE: turbo charged 1.2-litre inline four

POWER: 88kW at 4900 revs

TORQUE: 190Nm at 2000 revs

TRANSMISSION: six-speed dual clutch automatic

FUEL: petrol (premium), 5.2-l/100km combined (ADR 81/02)DRIVE: front wheel drive

BRAKES: ventilated discs front, drum rear, with ABS, stability control and brake assist

ANCAP SAFETY RATING: five stars

FEATURES: satellite navigation, colour touchscreen audio, Bluetooth compatibility and streaming, LED daytime running lights, front and rear fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels

PRICE AS TESTED: $19,790 plus onroad costs

OTHERS TO CONSIDER: CITROEN C3: from $19,990, FORD FIESTA SPORT: from $20,525, PEUGEOT 208: from $18,490 and VOLKSWAGEN POLO TSI: from $18,990.

The new Renaut Clio turns heads. Picture: Justin Whitelock

The new Renaut Clio turns heads. Picture: Justin Whitelock

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